For emerging photographers, the transition from your own Instagram feed to getting featured by a publication is like an indie band on SoundCloud getting signed to a label: you have arrived. Instagram boasts 1.2 billion unique users, making it incredibly easy to get started and unimaginably difficult to get noticed.
However, for some visual storytellers, it does happen. Building a following, deciding what kit to use, and staying authentic to your artistic vision are all paramount when it comes to succeeding within and beyond social media.
“Instagram has its problems and annoyances, but overall what it’s done for contemporary photography is great. People berate it sometimes as ‘cheap’, but there’s actually a huge community of very well-engaged and serious photographers,” says Ian Howorth, resident photographer at MPB Brighton. “That said, I still believe that print is the best way to consume photography, so having my work exhibited was always the dream.”
GET THE RIGHT KIT
Stepping up from smartphone photography to a professional camera is a turning point, a catalyst moment in which an artist decides to take their game to the next level.
“I first started out taking photographs of nature with my best friends as a young teen, and it quickly became my favourite hobby to do alone as well. I got keen on photographing portraits and assisting local wedding photographers with my first DSLR, and really began finding my own style in college, and sharing what I’ve made on social media,” says Makeda Sandford, US content marketing manager at MPB Brooklyn.
“Early on, using my Canon EOS 7D, I created some cinematic images in an attempt to understand light a bit better. I’d try and notice how my camera responded to different light conditions. I kept that camera for a good six years before trading up to a Nikon D810,” explains Howorth.
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
But in a landscape saturated with stunning images and relatable content, how can you stay inspired as a photographer and maintain your unique point of view? And is that important to grow a following?
“Think of yourself as an artist, and always be open to new avenues and re-evaluations,” is Sandford’s advice. “As long as your work reflects your purpose and the message you want to convey, people will see and want to follow your work naturally.”
Tahiti Abdulbasir, US social media manager at MPB Brooklyn, adds: “Remaining authentic is one of the most vital things to me, and what I recommend to others. Quality will always take priority over quantity. Continuing to evolve and expand on your work and change your perspective will keep your followers looking forward to your shares, regardless of how frequently or infrequently you post.”
BUILD A COMMUNITY
Art itself inspires and uplifts other artists, but so can wise words from the creator themselves. “Someone I follow on Instagram was doing quite well for themselves. In their post, they said how grateful they were to photography, and how photography allowed them to travel, see the world and learn,” recalls Howorth. “Reading that post had a big effect on me.”
Taking feedback, learning, growing, travelling, and practicing gratitude all contribute to maintaining your point of view. And, in turn, often inspires others to do the same. Community is central to building and expanding your audience online, offline and on social media.
“As Instagram became a popular platform, my feed turned more into a place for my work and less about my daily life,” explains Sandford. “I networked with other photographers on Instagram and started to build a bit of a following by collaborating with models in my area and being consistent in supporting others. My following surprises me now, but I definitely have put in lots of time and effort in curating my feed and gaining traction,” she adds.
“Once Instagram made its way onto the scene, I would casually share photographs. But, being from New York City, word of mouth is how many of us got our start,” agrees Abdulbasir. “People telling a friend of a friend about my work, or having people that believed in my artistic abilities recommend me for small jobs. Everything really began on a small scale and blossomed into something bigger over time.”
SET CLEAR TARGETS
Setting goals for yourself keeps you focused and motivated. But make sure they’re measurable and achievable.
“Goals and success are neither magical nor mysterious,” says Serah Alabi, content marketing manager at MPB Berlin. “Achieving your goals is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals. Patience, consistency and self-belief are three ingredients to make your goals a reality.”
Choose your goals and again, stay true to yourself. “A goal of mine at one point was to be featured in an exhibition. Once I began to focus on work that was important to me, that goal came into fruition,” adds Abdulbasir.
DON’T BE SHY TO HUSTLE
Realising that the work never ends, even after you’ve blown up on Instagram, is an important aspect of any photographer’s path. Just because you’re in an exhibition, it doesn’t mean it’s time to slow your roll.
“There’s always work to be done if you are chasing after popular clients,” says Sandford. “Some of my best jobs were recommendations from folks I met on set. By making a good impression, people will always remember you,” she continues. “There are great opportunities for photographers to become influencers, or sell products like prints and books due to their dedicated following. That’s my next goal.”
Whether you’re just getting started posting your iPhone photography on Instagram, or if you’re already well on the road to influencer status, follow this advice to grow your audience organically and you’ll be one step closer to achieving your goal of getting published.
MPB is the world’s largest online platform for used photography and videography equipment, headquartered in the creative communities of Brighton, Brooklyn and Berlin. Explore the range of used kit or get an instant quote at mpb.com